It's time to stop letting the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) firms have the upper hand when it comes to secret knowledge about how search engines work! Even if you end up hiring an SEO firm to optimize your web site, you should have some knowledge about what they might suggest you do, and how to qualify the fees they charge.
The three SEO tips I offer below are straightforward, but they are also some of the most powerful techniques and insights into the way search engines work that you will find.
SEO URL Tip 1: Duplicate Content Kills
What is Duplicate Content in Terms of SEO?
Duplicate content, in terms of SEO, can mean a couple different things. For one, duplicate content can mean using the same textual content on multiple web pages. A common misconception about SEO is that the more pages you have the better, even if they contain the same content.
Duplicate content can also mean several different URL's for the same web page. This often happens on accident, but it can also be a purposeful technique to increase the number of web pages a search engine sees.
Simply put, this technique can cause you many serious problems down the road.
Duplicate Content Means Search Engines Only Index One Page
For one, search engines will consider duplicate content on the web a form of plagiarism, and so they will only display one page out of the duplicates to show on their SERP's (Search Engine Result Pages). This means that if you have 5 pages, only 1 will actually be added to a search engine's index. Since you don't know which one that will be, you put more power in the hands of the search engine than you really need to.
A Quick SEO Overview of PageRank
PageRank is the Google search engine's way of ranking web pages. Every web page gets a certain amount of PageRank for just existing. When a web page hyperlinks to another web page, they pass on some PageRank to the web page they link to. Therefore, the more inbound links (links coming to a web page from another web page), the higher the PageRank.
PageRank is used by Google as a major factor in determining where a web page lands on the SERP's, so getting and and conserving it is of utmost importance when it comes to SEO.
Why Duplicate Content is an SEO Nightmare in Terms of PageRank
The main reason duplicate content is a major SEO issue is due to problems with PageRank. If you have 5 web pages with the same content, each of these have an equal number of incoming links, and only one of them gets indexed, that means that the indexed web page only has 1/5 the amount of PageRank it could have if all of the inbound links were coming to it.
To put this another way, duplicate pages split up your PageRank, and since PageRank is going to pages that don't matter, it gets lost, never to be seen again.
One More Reason Duplicate Content Can Put a Stop to SEO
This one is the clincher: duplicate content is against most search engine's terms of service. This means that if Google finds out that you're using duplicate content they can penalize your site, rendering it virtually invisible on the SERP's.
Don't Ignore the Filename
SEO URL Tip 2: Getting Keywords in URL's is Critical
Getting keywords in your URL is one of the most overlooked techniques for SEO-ing a web site. Here's a quick overview of what you can do to work your URL into SEO shape!
What is a URL?
A URL (Universal Resource Locator) is the name of your web page which appears in a web browser's address bar. URL's are used by search engines as an identifier for your web page. They also store the URL in their index as one of the ways they determine the subject matter of a web site.
The first part of a URL consists of a domain name, like "www.impliedbydesign.com". The second part of the URL consists of the filename, or something like "/seo-optimization-article.html".
Use a Keyword Rich Domain Name for SEO
The first part of a URL is the domain name, which you can SEO by adding in some of the most important keywords regarding your web site. For instance, a web site selling blue widgets might choose a domain name like "www.blue-widgets.com" or "www.budget-blue-widgets.com". Even if you have to be creative because the domain name you wanted initially isn't available, you can still SEO the domain name by getting in the keywords.
You also might have noticed that I used a dash between the keywords. This gives the search engine an easy way to separate the keywords from one another, giving the domain more SEO power.
Use a Keyword Rich Filename for SEO
The second part of the URL - the filename - is fairly easy to get SEO-ed. Using the same method you used with the domain name, you can create a keyword rich filename. Just add in the keywords the web page is focused on, separate them with a dash, and you're good to go.
One important thing to note is that you can over-SEO a URL, either causing a search engine to put up a red flag in regards to your site, or diluting the power of your keywords. The trick is not to use too many words in the domain name or the file name. This will keep the importance of your keywords from diminishing since they won't have to share significance with other, less important keywords.
Query Strings in URLs are Bad News
SEO URL Tip 3: Query Strings are Bad News
For a long time, URL's with query strings were an SEO dead end, since search engines wouldn't index them at all. In recent years, search engines have started to index URL's with query strings, but at a price.
What is a Query String?
A query string is a string of characters at the end of a URL that pass important information to the URL. The query string starts with a question mark and uses an ampersand to separate values. For instance, the following example is a URL with a query string: http://www.impliedbydesign.com/articles.html?category=2&orderby=1.
What Makes a Query String Bad News for SEO?
Firstly, a query string makes a URL longer so when search engines index the page, the SEO-ed, keyword rich domain name and filename lose significance to the other characters added on by the query string.
Secondly, and more importantly, a query string indicates some other SEO problems with a web page. It indicates that the page is likely created "dynamically" or "on-the-fly", meaning that that page doesn't actually exist until someone visits the page with a web browser. These kinds of pages usually run off of a database and can have thousands of unique URL's with different content for a single web page.
The two problems with this is that 1) The query strings could inadvertently be creating duplicate content pages, diluting PageRank and 1) It is generally believed that search engines don't consider dynamic web pages as important as static web pages, simply because it is so easy to generate SEO spam dynamically.
Keeping the Query Strings Out / Conclusion
So How Do I Keep the Query String from Having Negative Effects on My SEO Efforts?
The best thing to do is to get rid of the string altogether, thus allowing your web site to use SEO URL's. This is easier said than done, but there are a couple of tricks you can use pass those variables in the query string to your pages in a more SEO manner.
First, try to use session variables where you can. Session variables are stored on the server, and keep track of a visitor's information. If you move most of the query string into session variables, they will be invisible in the URL's.
Secondly, you can use tools that cause a URL to look a certain way to a visitor, and another way to the server. The actual technology you use will be different depending on weather you're using a Windows or a Linux web server, but there is information across the web on how to implement it. Just look up "url rewrite IIS" for Windows servers or "url rewrite apache" for Linux servers.
Once you get the query string out of the picture, your URL's will be squeaky clean for SEO.
The three SEO tips for URL's we covered in this article will do wonders for your SEO efforts. Getting the query string out of the URL is a commonly-overlooked technique that you can use to give your web site an edge in the search engine optimization department.
Using all three of these in tandem will give you the added benefit of not having to implement the SEO techniques later after your web pages have been established. Doing so will inadvertently result in you starting all over in the search engine indexes.